Why does the world ignore the dark side of development in Africa?


Earlier this week, more than 30,000 residents in Kenya were left homeless after their homes were demolished by government cranes and bulldozers. Homes, schools, medical centres and businesses were all destroyed in Kenya’s largest slum – all in the name of building a new $20m dual-carriageway to relieve congestion in the capital, Nairobi.

Reuters ran with an image of residents standing among the rubble, with more fortunate Kenyans playing golf on an immaculate course just the other side of the wall surrounding the slum.

The image does more than highlight the disparity between the country’s rich and poor; it shows the other side of the fence that is development in Africa. For every golf course, shopping mall and dual carriageway, Africans are forced from their homes to make space for the next shiny symbol of progress.

The trauma suffered by the residents of Kibera slum earlier this week was not an isolated incident. It wasn’t an administrative error or anything unusual at all – it was simply the dark side of development in Africa that the world is happy to ignore.

Paving the way for development in Africa

African development is serious businesses, generating billions in revenue and investment opportunities for entire nations such as China and global organisations including the World Bank. Let’s face it, nobody is building roads in Africa because they feel charitable. Every square-foot of tarmac paves the way for bigger returns on the billions of investment flowing into Africa and the mounting debt across the continent.

This is pure business, at its most ruthless.

According to investigations by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the World Bank-funded projects have displaced more than 3.4 million people over the last decade. This shouldn’t come as a surprise from an organisation that continues to pump money into governments accused of horrific human rights violations.

After all, what do forced evictions matter when widespread cases or rape, murder and torture are ignored?

The World Bank isn’t the only organisation pumping money into projects that force people out of their homes, though.

In 2017, the Itedo community of the largest informal fishing settlement in Lagos, Nigeria, was forced to flee their homes when government bulldozers began tearing down their homes in the early hours of the morning. The site is now being used as part of a luxury redevelopment project.

In 2015, thousands of people protested in the Ghanaian capital of Accra against demolition efforts at a slum home to more than 50,000.

Similar incidences have occurred in Cameroon, Liberia, Mali, Senegal and South Africa over recent years – among many others, including Kenya.

Building a brighter future for the minority

The reality being ignored in these development projects is they create a more luxurious lifestyle for the minority while taking away living essentials from the majority. In Kenya, Nairobi’s single largest population is those living in slums yet the leaders they vote for continue to sign off projects that force them out of the modest homes they have.

It’s the same story with the cities roads, which are filled with the cars of those who can afford them. Meanwhile, the public transport system across Nairobi is painfully inefficient. Sadly for the city’s poor majority, building new roads is seen as a symbol of progress – something politicians can easily point to and use to transport tangible assets.

Meanwhile, improving the public transport system for the poor or ensuring they have somewhere to live after their homes are torn apart does little to impress investors. While the opening of new airports and trade routes are celebrated at the international level, ensuring Kenya’s poorest have the minimum essentials to survive doesn’t seem to excite anyone.

If it did, the world wouldn’t stand by and ignore thousands of people being made homeless for the sake of a dual-carriageway project running through Kibera. We won’t sit quietly when the government fails to stage an election fitting with the Western ideal of democracy – that’s not acceptable. But the forced eviction of thousands who inconveniently reside on land where there’s money to be made, well that’s just part of building a better country.

Featured image: By SuSanA Secretariat – https://www.flickr.com/photos/gtzecosan/4112045236/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36537811

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.